A new interpretation of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities”

If you take a real bird’s-eye view of the climate negotiations – one in which only the largest features are visible – then you might say that they began in earnest with 1992’s negotiation of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The next big event was the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in 1997.  Then came Copenhagen in 2009 and the following daze, which finally lifted in late 2011 with the Durban Platform, which provided for “a Protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force, applicable to all countries” to be negotiated by 2015 and to go into effect in 2020.

Those negotiations are now proceeding in earnest, and they’re taking place within civil society networks as well. One of those networks, the most established and extensive of all those working within the climate talks, is the international Climate Action Network, which consists of over 700 NGOs from around the world.  And CAN, as it is called, has now agreed on its own positions, which will be the basis of its lobbying and outreach as we approach the big year 2015.  These positions are represented by two “submissions” to the UNFCCC secretariat.  The submission to “Workstream 1” (which covers the post-2020 regime that is now being negotiated) is here.  The submission to “Workstream 2” (which covers the effort to increase ambition prior to 2020) is here.

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The New Abolitionists

Global warming is the great moral crisis of our time

You may have already read Wen Stephenson’s The New Abolitionists. It was published in the Boston Phoenix some time ago, and it’s bounced around. But just in case you missed it, stop and take a look.  Now, if necessary.

I don’t mean to say that this essay is above criticism.  It contains nothing on the global side of the crisis, for example, and this even though the climate crisis is quintessentially global.  And the discussion of worst-cases (the Tim DeChristopher meets Terry Root passage) is more than a bit thin.

Which is where this bit comes in:

“Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future,” DeChristopher tells Tempest Williams, “I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back.”

Actually, DeChristopher does allow some hope. “If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization,” he tells Williams. “But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. It means we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world.”

This, I have to say, just doesn’t work for me.

Another weakness.  There’s next  to nothing here on how the rich / poor divide makes it next to impossible for us to succeed, not as long as we remain a “climate movement” per se.   Even a “climate justice” movement, as DeChristopher and Stephenson mean the phrase, doesn’t put justice front and center.  

Still, this piece is a keeper.  It’s not just good, it’s damn good.  Kudos to Stephenson.

Climate Change Will Cause Food Prices To Soar

I’ve noticed that when people draft their “scare the shit out of you” summary paragraph — the one that, it seems, we’ll be reworking for the rest of our lives — they often forget food prices, which will be rising fast and soon.   This is unfortunate, in all sorts of ways.  Human suffering, for one.  Game changing political movements, for another.

Anyway, Oxfam is taking the lead on this front, and its work deserves a great deal more attention that it’s received.  Start with Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world, which was published last September.  Joe Romm wrote a nice summary here.

For a bit more historical context, don’t forget Brecht and Weill’s Three Penny Opera, wherein we get this little bit of advice: However much you twist, whatever lies you tell, food is the first thing, morals follow on.”  (Click to listen to a fantastic version!  Listen to it loud!).  

Thinking hard about "Equity Reference Frameworks"

The Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios project recently organized an interesting workshop of Equity Access to Sustainable Development.  The public report of the workshop is here, and it’s well worth spending some time with, particular because of the depth and sophistication with which it engaged with the problem of Equity Reference Frameworks.

See in particular the paper the report from the workshop, Relfections on Operationalizing EASD, and the backgroup paper on Equity Reference Frameworks and their operationalization, by Xolisa Ngwadla of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 

Ngwadla introdues the idea of “Equity Reference Framework,” or ERF, in this manner:

“The underlying philosophy for an ERF is the universal application of egalitarian principle to guide a  distributive view that seeks to address historical, current, and potential inequities in respect of  contribution to emissions, and as such is corrective in character, and distributive in approach. In  respect of the metric/non-metric chasm, a stepwise consideration is proposed, where there is an ex  ante assessment of fair effort in a non-binding framework, with binding commitments proposed by  parties and therefore catering to national circumstances.

However, the process of inscribing such commitments includes a Party-driven process to assess the  adequacy of proposed commitments against the computed fair efforts, and as such drive ambition  whilst reconciling a top-down and bottom-up approach. An important characteristic of the output of  the ERF is that it reflects a relative fair effort by a Party, without prescribing only a level of emission  reduction, but expecting a total contribution that includes means of implementation, thereby  providing flexibility in terms of the mix of commitments a Party can use to achieve its responsibility at any given temperature goal.”

One further note.  There is still a lot of unnecessary complexity swirling around the notion of equity.  As far as the negotiations, and of finding a way forward in which the pursuit of equity and the pursuit of ambition buttress and strengthen each other, there are really only two relevant options — the Historical Responsibility approach and the Responsibility and Capacity approach.   One of the reasons why this workshop was so interesting is that this baseline reality was recognized by the participants, who were thereby able to look forward and build upon it.  In particular, they were able to have a coherent discussion about how the ERF debate could be folded into and play a helpful role within the UNFCCC process.

“Participants then discussed how the ERF could be constituted: at the prescriptive end it could be  perhaps through a COP decision that could engage the IPCC and SBSTA and at the facilitative end it could be outside the formal UN process but exert influence through informal channels. Further discussion focused on the possible content of the ERF: it could contain objectives for adaptation and mitigation, based on global temperature goals (2 and 1.5 °C); and corresponding relative fair efforts by countries. Participants identified a list of functions the ERF could perform: it could inform the types of commitments countries could take, their timing, the legal form these commitments could take and the compliance consequences that could follow.”